King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard/Summerstage at Rumsey Playfield/August 28, 2019
Seven musicians started jamming together in 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. Lead vocalist Stu Mackenzie wanted to call the band Gizzard Gizzard. Another member suggested Lizard King, the nickname of Jim Morrison of the Doors. They compromised as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. The band consists of Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, flute), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica, keyboards), Cook Craig (guitar, bass, vocals), Joey Walker (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), Lucas Skinner (bass, keyboards), Michael Cavanagh (drums, percussion), and Eric Moore (drums, percussion, management). The band is known for its energetic live shows and prolific recording output; in 2017, the band fulfilled a promise to release five studio albums within the year. The band released its 15th and most recent album, Infest the Rats’ Nest, on August 16, 2019; it was the band’s second album in 2019.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is a puzzling band. The psychedelic rock band released a rather chill album in April, followed by a thrash metal album four months later. The band’s performance at SummerStage in Central Park featured a similarly diverse variety of sounds. Many songs seemed rather experimental, changing gears with the introduction of a new instrument or a change of rhythm before igniting into a burning furnace seemingly ready to explode. The band played no simple songs; the paradox was that even the lighter, poppier songs often evolved into a complex arrangement, with individual musicians offering something to throw a melody or a time signature off the main frame. The band’s rallying moments, however, were in the boisterous, high energy stingers, with their thick grooves and dark bass lines generating mosh pits and crowd surfing. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s set was expansive and eclectic, defying musical predictability but guaranteeing a raucous party spirit.
MC50/(le) Poisson Rouge/August 29, 2019
As a youth in the nineteen-sixties, guitarist Wayne Kramer formed the Bounty Hunters in the basement of Kramer’s mother’s basement in Detroit. After a series of personnel changes, the band in 1965 became the hard-rocking MC5, an abbreviation for Motor City Five. Based on its high-energy shows and controversial politics, MC5 landed on the cover of Rolling Stone even before the release of the band’s 1969 debut album. After three albums, the band split in 1972 and Kramer began a two-year prison sentence in 1975 for drug offenses. After his parole, Kramer moved to New York City and worked as a carpenter for several years. In 1979 he played in the band Gang War with Johnny Thunders and also in Was (Not Was), and in 1980 he played with Fats Deacon and the Dumbwaiters. Kramer launched a solo career in 1994. Kramer periodically reformed various versions of MC5 until he stabilized a lineup from 2005 to 2012 with Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators as vocalist. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of MC5’s debut album, Kramer assembled MC50 for tours in 2018 and 2019; MC50 consists of Kramer, vocalist Marcus Durant of Zen Guerrilla, guitarist Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, bassist Billy Gould of Faith No More, and drummer Brendan Canty of Fugazi.
MC50 performed all eight songs from MC5’s debut album at (le) Poisson Rouge, though not in album order, plus seven tracks from the band’s other two albums. Thanks to the all-star musicians, nothing could go wrong, even though all of Kramer’s band mates were young children when the albums were released. In true MC5 proto-punk tradition, MC50’s performance for the most part was fast, loud, and intense, with hard-edged guitar rock that was hearty, muscular, and angry. Kramer dominated the band, with numerous extended guitar solos and a few lead vocals. Durant sang soulfully, pouring his angst-filled vocals especially into the few slower, blues-inspired moments. With no new music to promote, MC50 enacted a slice of music history, offering a half-century look-back into the root elements of yesterday and today’s garage rock, hard rock, blues rock, and psychedelic rock.
Vice/The Bitter End/August 30, 2019
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Corey Glover was an aspiring actor when guitarist Vernon Reid recruited him into Living Colour in 1985, reportedly after hearing Glover sing “Happy Birthday” at a friend’s party. Living Colour’s debut album, 1988’s Vivid, was certified platinum in 1989 and again five years later. The album’s single, “Cult of Personality,” won the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and the band was named Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards. Living Colour split in 1995, and Glover started a solo career, toured in the funk bands Galactic and Soul Rebels Brass Band, hosted various shows on VH1, played the role of Judas Iscariot in a touring company of Jesus Christ Superstar, recorded with the band Ultraphonix, and formed the band Vice. Vice consists of Glover, guitarist Mike Ciro, bassist Booker King, and drummer Nat Townsley.
Vice returned to the Bitter End, this time with the addition of keyboardist Benny Harrison, and cranked out an assortment of hard rock, pop, and rhythm & blues songs. The first song was a raging rocker, and at the end Glover assured the audience that this music was designed to be played loud. The band quickly moved to lighter fare, however, and demonstrated how these well-seasoned session players were capable of playing most any genre of music. Vice was tailored to be an all-embracing vehicle for Glover’s extensive musical interests, so each song seemed to push him in a slightly different direction. In the end, Glover proved to be an outstanding vocalist, ready to enhance rock, soul, and blues songs with a rich, husky voice. “Cult of Personality,” the set’s closer, brought the set back full circle to where Glover’s music career started. It would have been interesting if he had sung “Happy Birthday,” as well.
Ellis Dyson & the Shambles/Mercury Lounge/September 2, 2019
At age 18 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Ellis Dyson started listening to jazz swing and Appalachian folk music. Inspired by the unique banjo picking of Kentucky coal miner Roscoe Holcomb, Dyson began playing old-time banjo. Dyson found a like-minded college student when he met saxophonist and clarinet player Danny Abrams, and in 2013 the duo began playing as a saxophone and banjo duo. Currently working as a quintet, Ellis Dyson & the Shambles continues to play old-time Americana music. The band consists of Dyson, Abrams, acoustic guitarist Eli Wittmann, bassist Butler Knowles, and trombonist Danny Grewen. On April 5, 2019, the quintet released its third album, Greetings from Shambylvania, a musical collection featuring whimsical vignettes from the fictional town of Shambylvania.
Ellis Dyson & the Shambles brought to Mercury Lounge a musical sound that relatively few 21st century musicians explore. With a tremendous debt to Prohibition Era music, these five ardent students of swing, ragtime, Dixieland, jump blues, gypsy jazz, and other old-time foot-stomping sounds took the audience for a lively trip to a bygone period of party music. Mixing new songs and cover songs, the band preserved a nearly lost form of American music and also added to its canon. Using almost all acoustic instrumentation, the band took front-porch music to hootin’ and hollerin’ levels. Using the structures of early New Orleans jazz to Piedmont murder ballads, the lyrics advanced the tradition of storytelling through songwriting, painting colorful characters, situations, and panoramas through agile musicianship and showmanship. Ellis Dyson & the Shambles is a band on a mission to preserve early forms of American music, and more than likely will gather a growing legion of admirers to further this enterprise.